<b>Follow-up to Churchill's English-centric view of the world</b>Sir Winston Churchill ended the fourth volume of his <i>History of the English-Speaking Peoples</i> with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. As the first day of that new century dawned, the British Empire spanned the world. Its decline was imminent, but its leaders did not know that. With the exception of Theodore Roosevelt, about to become president of the United States, few Americans imagined their nation's ascendancy as an international power. Yet the 20th century was to belong to the English-speaking peoples, who defeated Germany and its allies in two world wars, threw Communism on the ash heap of history, and are now struggling against Islamic fascism and terror.
What connects these countries in which the majority of the populations speaks English as a first language the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and Ireland is greater than what separates them, Andrew Roberts finds in hs continuation of Churchill's work. He weaves the strands of major political developments in each country over a century, as this band of nations persisted, triumphed and is doughtily defending themselves still. He declares, they are the last, best hope for Mankind, and their century of sway has been a most decent, honest, generous, fair-minded, and self-sacrificing <i>imperium</i>. Roberts' scholarship is sweeping, touching on cultural, scientific and intellectual endeavors. Despite his unabashed triumphalism, he marches boldly into minefields of controversy (e.g., Britain's disastrous handing over of India, Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan), marshaling his evidence and weighing it like a jurist.
It is emphatically not that the English-speaking peoples are inherently better or superior people that accounts for their success, Roberts observes. Instead, he says they have achieved better systems of government than most nations, marked by popular participation and accountability. The English-speaking people cherish the rule of law, with principles established in England's Glorious Revolution (1688) and the U.S. Constitution (1789). Finally, he says, they tend to be unromantic and literal-minded, seldom dreaming the dystopian dreams of revolutionaries and jihadists.
Never eschewing an opinion, Roberts invites revisionism of some of the century's supposedly settled issues. He credits Neville Chamberlain's government with building the armaments that enabled English fighter pilots to win the Battle of Britain and declares that Khrushchev, not Kennedy, won the standoff over Soviet missiles in Cuba. He holds that the U.S. Supreme Court made the legally right decision in the case of <i>Bush v. Gore</i>.
Yet a motif of something akin to sadness surfaces from time to time in Roberts' epic tour, and that is our English-speaking civilization's guilt that sometimes amounts to self-hatred. More in sorrow than in anger, he chronicles what he considers the capture of universities in the United States by leftists and politically correct faddists who plunged higher education into an age of darkness.
A plodding prose style would have sunk a book of this scope and scale. Happily, Roberts writes with verve, engagement, Å½lan. He enjoys the telling anecdote and the foibles of the characters who bestrode the last century. He sums up masses of detail in pithy paragraphs, and presents his several journeys around the globe with seamless organizational skill.
<i>Jim Summerville writes from Dickson, Tennessee.</i>